Titan Beneath The Heavens - lightnovelgate.com
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Rain! That damned rain! If someone were to ask O'Neil Andrew Morisette what he hated the most in the end of 6th Month of Light's Year 791, the Prince would most definitely respond with "Rain! God dammit! What else? Have you ever seen rain that doesn't fucking stop at all?"
"Relax, boy! You need to relax, get some rest." Snowstorm fiddled with the pork chop in the plate, he thought the person laying in bed wasn't a prince at the moment, but some uncivilized butcher, this teen had been spouting cusswords left and right ever since he had been down with a cold as if the whole world had owed him money.
The Prince panted heavily, he really thought he wasn't fit for travel. The last trip from Damorga to Dulin? Oscar spat at his bodyguard. It was that bodyguard who left him in severe injury in that very short journey. Hah! It gets better! Now that the journey lengthened, his injury seemed to have stacked, what's the logic behind this?
"Paul… Snowstorm! Fuck this, dear Mr. Paul Pock! As a proper bodyguard, you should be solving issues for your employer, but you? You don't even give me a logical response when I talk to you!" Oscar was despondent, he could only say that the King of Assassins wasn't much of a stickler for rules.
Snowstorm set down his utensils, satisfied. Captain Arden's cooking was really extraordinary. It was such a waste for him to stay in the army, much like himself. The King of Assassins ruminated in his fantasy happily. If he hadn't met Thirteen, that old bastard, he would be a farm owner by now, he really thought he wasn't cut out for an assassin.
"Assassiiiin!" The teenager's shriek brought a gust of wind, causing the whole tent to shake.
"Can't you just be quiet for a while?" Snowstorm left his seat begrudgingly, he poured the Prince a cup of tea. The Prince's shriek tugged at his lungs, and now he's coughing like there's no tomorrow.
"Cough cough… Ah, thanks!" The Prince finally accomplished his goal, making the only person by his side pay attention to him.
"I feel better now!" The Prince propped himself up, he had been lying on the bed for two whole days.
"Thank the God of Light for this! I'm really happy you said that!" Snowstorm was being sincere on this, if this kiddo got under the weather, it doesn't take much to figure out who would be the first victim.
"Ah, thank you, thank you, thank you for your care for the past two days."
The King of Assassins was a little stunned, "What are you talking about? Did your temperature go up again?" He wanted to place his palm on the teen's forehead, but was slapped away by the teen.
"What? What do you mean? This is my moment of most clarity since falling ill!" Oscar was furious at his bodyguard's response.
"But this is not like you, did I hear it wrong? You thanking me? My impression of you… I'm sorry to say this, but you'd never uttered that word before." Snowstorm was a little surprised, this kid had never really appreciated other people's kindness to him.
Oscar didn't want to explain himself, he wanted to throw his vicious mockery at his challenger, but his words melted into the void as it reached his mouth.
Right now, the King of Assassins had two deep eye bags and unkempt hair. For the sake of the defenseless prince's safety, he hadn't slept for days.
The teen swallowed his insults. It felt bad, but through the past few days, he realized the discomfort was mostly due to his own personality. Right then, O'Neil Andrew Morisette had faced himself wholly for the first time, his weaknesses and personality flaws. Even though he didn't know what exactly he was lacking, he knew he was eccentric, to say the least, to most normal people.
Oscar sighed, "Heh, do you want the truth?"
"Of course!" Snowstorm was a little startled by the teen's change. If it was in the past, without his own revelation, no one would even know what he was thinking. On that note, no one ever knew what he was actually planning. He… seemed to start learning how to communicate with other people.
"How do I say this? It's really nothing? I'm just a little moved, a little curious, a little, uh… self-aware? Yes, self-aware!" Oscar muttered, seemingly saying it to himself.
"If I didn't cause so much trouble in Dulin, maybe… Maybe Mam, Sasha, Annie, and Her Royal Highness Princess Alanis, and of course, my knights, wouldn't be in so much danger right now."
Snowstorm's eyes widened! He couldn't believe this was said by the Brother 'Balance', infamous across the whole of Titan Empire.
"I mean… Yes, I'm badly injured, I'm down with cold, I'm in really really bad luck, and there's someone out there who could mobilize a whole mercenary group who wanted my head, all these would make one go crazy, you know?" The teen met his gaze with Snowstorm's.
"Yes, crazy. Don't you think this life where you may lose your life at any time maddening? How does Thirteen live in total peace in this world? Snowstorm, you would know best! Thirteen had always hid in the dark, like a hunter from the Shura hell. As long as he was surrounded in darkness, nothing would be able to hurt him. I could have been the same, I even thought that's how I should live, but all these had changed! I'm at a place where even the God of Light himself would pay attention at, and on the other hand, my enemies are in the dark! Nothing could be worse than this! Really!"
Oscar gulped down his cup of tea, the bitterness of it didn't help him with his nerves.
"I'm sure you understand by now. Yes, I'm cowering in fear, look at what you've seen now, Paul. Human lives are such frail things! I remember when I was attacked, the knight was pierced by an arrow right in front of my eyes! Do you know what I was thinking?" Oscar didn't plan to let his only audience answer, he continued.
"I was rejoicing! Yes! Rejoicing the fact that it wasn't me! Paul, I don't know if you ever felt that way, but… I mean you've killed before, I've killed too, I thought I wouldn't be afraid of death anymore, but as I watched the brilliance in the knight's eyes leave, I realized I had overestimated my knowledge of death. What is death? It doesn't just signifies the passing of a life, it includes too many things!"
The teen rubbed his eyes, exhausted. He didn't know why he told his bodyguard all these, and the weirdest part was that he hadn't planned to stop.
"Paul, I'm afraid of dying, I'm terrified of it! I had been thinking about this the past few days, and I finally figured out a vague answer to the question, the answer to the meaning of life."
"And that is?" Snowstorm held up his chin and looked at the chubby teenager expectantly.
"To live!" The Prince said.
"Why?" Snowstorm asked.
"Everyone would have a different answer to this. I believe most people hadn't even considered the question, 'Why live?'" O'Neil Andrew Morisette stood spiritedly. "I don't want to know other people's answers, I'll only talk about mine. I live for people who love me, I live for people whom I love, I live for the people who are loyal to me, I live for the people who want me dead. Don't answer the question with the family, the nation, or the world, the question was simple, of all the things I've said, you should know, Paul, everyone in the world live for their own, no doubt about it!"
Rain seemed to be staying in this mountain area, the scouts of the Narcissus Knights were slightly depressed to find the sun shining down from afar. The team had been camping out in the mercenary's for two days, the knights lack food as well as medicine.
The rain transformed the path into a marshy road, furthermore, it's unrealistic to let the injured travel in the rain. The humid weather had caused a lot of the warriors to develop cold. Even though none of the knights complained, a non-combat attrition of three to four people daily was embarrassing.
The Narcissus Knights didn't lose their fighting ability, and together with the imperial guards that took a huge amount of damage during the two battles, they carried out their duties loyally. Even though the moaning from the camp for the injured depress them, at least the two daily Operations Clean-up help them clear their frustration.
The Operations Clean-up had been ongoing for two days, some individual Narcissus Knights had questions about the operation, they reasoned that defenseless war prisoners shouldn't be treated with such extreme measures, but they were immediately sent to help out Dr. Percy. Following the doctor wasn't a fun thing to do, no one liked seeing their expired comrades being cut open with a scalpel like dead fish.
The feeling of conflict disappeared relatively quickly, being replaced by the rage of vengeance. Even after the prisoners reported their identity and nationality, their identification as a mercenary invited scrutiny. According to the history of Westland, none of any two warring countries would recognize a mercenary's status, these guys who sold their soul for money would only be described with several sentences on a report.
The Narcissus Knights had enough reasons to convict the mercenaries, even with only the charge of attempted murder of a royal member would be enough to impose the most serious sentence on all these people. The Narcissus Knights even thought that was light for these people who deserved torture, they only dug out a few big holes for the criminals.
The captives had almost an identical headcount with the Narcissus Knights, this increases the uncertainty of Operation Clean-up. The knights would find use the excuse of sending the captives to the local army out of the valley, because only with that can the mobilization of the mercenary be unsuspicious.
The Narcissus Knights sent the captives out in four batches, they left behind half of the knights to watch over the remaining mercenaries, and chose fifty to be sent out every time, once in the morning, once in the afternoon. By noon of the second day, the last of them were already on the road.
The rain had died down a little, but it was still cold and chilly. The mountain range in the south had always been the Titan noble's favorite place to avoid the summer heat, because the rain completely negates the effects of the summer.
The captives were tied with their hands on their back. The Narcissus Knights ordered them to form a team of ten, if any one of the ten attempted to run away, the whole team would die together with him. Things like that only happened once, no one even entertained the idea of leaving the knight's field of vision afterward.
The mountain roads were difficult to navigate, the captives had already used up half of their stamina, the Narcissus Knights don't like to use whips, those are the signature of the Persians, they like spur wheels in front of their boots instead of at the back. If anyone was making a ruckus, the spur wheels would land on his back, leaving a trail of bloodied holes. Prince O'Neil at the end of the procession had no doubt it would be an experience one would never forget.
Oscar insisted on coming along the last 'clean-up', despite the majority opinion. The stubborn prince rejected the soldiers' goodwill, as usual.
The muddy road was harsh on everyone, the Narcissus Knights' masks were full of the scent of savagery. The rain washed away the grime from the armors of the knights, leaving them cleaner than usual. Rainwater that dripped from their iron armors were like a gory shower.
The captives walked in fear, afraid to act in manners that may be misconstrued. The colonel had already announced several rules during their captivity, including those that may lead to their loss of tongue or eyeballs. The Narcissus Knights had proven with their actions that they are the strongest army in Westland. The captured mercenaries had completely lost their will to fight back after two battles and the torture that came after.
"Something seems wrong."
"Your Royal Highness, what seems wrong?" Colonel Kamille Rayen asked respectfully.
"These are the enemy that injured and killed so many of our men?" The teen's voice wavered in the rain. It surprised the Paladin, the teen Prince sounded almost… lonely?
"Yes, Your Royal Highness, it's them who almost decimated us." Kamille didn't forget to spit at the captive when he said that.
"I remember, before Church's calendar, there's a sage who said 'Only the Dead could witness the end of war.'"
The Prince nudged his horse and raced to the front, the Paladin could only hear the last part of the Prince, "'In war, the Living would never be relieved!'"
The Narcissus Knights shared a look, they were almost at their destination. The Knights kept shrinking their formation, squeezing the captives as tightly as possible. The mercenaries didn't notice anything wrong, like quails, they were walking as quickly as they could, pretending not to notice the knights' action. They just wanted to be rid of these demons.
The captives in front finally realized the mountain road was problematic. They had already left the mountain path not long ago, as they were at the moment walking in the woods with luscious undergrowth. The hill in front was obviously man-made.
The man-made hill had several shallow drains made by the rain. The deep brown color of the soil indicated its recency being dug out from the ground. The captives crawled up the hill with difficulty before the rain caused them to slide. What's worse, is that something seemed to exist behind the hill that can consume lives.
The screams and yells from the front led to the alertness of the captives at the back, "What happened?" Questions arose within everyone's heart, only to be answered by the knights' shields and spur wheels.
All of the captives in the first row fell into the pit. As they were staggering to stand up, they finally realized how critical their situation was!
The pit was almost four meters in depth, shaped like a square of seven to eight meters. The mud created by the rain boxed in the captives. Out of fear, they were wailing in hopelessness. 'Buried alive' was not a new concept, but no one would be willing to try it out.
The people inside the pit tried to crawl their way out, but the ones outside were constantly being pushed in by the shields and spears, wails could be heard throughout the mountain. Some of the more rebellious captives tried to do something about it, but they were tied together with their comrades who were scared out of their minds. Even though they kept charging at the Narcissus Knights, in their teams of ten, they could not even harm the knights.
As the last captive was kicked into the pit, he recovered nimbly. In the pit, muddy water was almost half a meter tall, countless people were rolling in the pit, scratching for their lives. Nothing was more important than their lives, but they used to not understand that.
The shroud of shower was getting denser by the second, bean-like raindrops scrambled to knock on the knights' armors, the sound it created was as if it was raining pebbles.
From the top, it looked like hell had surfaced from underground. The hopeless abandoned people were like demons, their eyes, fingers, limbs, and their screams of trying to survive.
Oscar recounted what he saw. Was it shocking? No! Was it sympathy? Not in the least. The Prince was finally able to calm himself completely after his first ever battle in his life.
'Only the Dead could witness the end of war.' He ruminated, not remembering who the original quote was from, but he did know it was a truth proven by countless lives. And now, another group of people would soon to test the validity of the quote.
The teenager clenched at the rope, waving his free arm.
Four caravans full of mud was pushed up by the knights, creaking loudly as if it was going to cave at any moment. It was rebuilt from scratch by the knights, its bottom was linked to several stallions with ropes.
The knights' boots nudged the horses, forcing these 'coolies' to charge forward after a slight shudder.
The wood beneath the caravan slowly rose, turning the caravan forward, causing the mud to spill into the hell hole. The whole pit started boiling up with beastly wails.
In just a moment, mud had the captives' chests submerged, slowing down their movements significantly, but no one should underestimate one's will to live. Some of them attempted to climb out by stepping on their comrade's heads and shoulders, some of them clawed at the edge of the pit with their bloodied hands. All the effort had been foiled by the knights, but they still tried repeatedly while bawling their eyes out.
Finally, one of the succeeded hiking the steep wall of the pit, it's only half a body, but it's enough to convince him he could do it. He tried pulling himself up, but his thighs had been caught by his teammates. He knew other people wanted to come up as well, but they shouldn't have treated him like a hiking tool!
The captive kicked some of the more annoying guys away from him. He looked at his former comrades, satisfied, but as he turned his head back, a dark creature loomed above his head.
Oscar lightly caressed the Raytheon stallion's neck, his own bay horse had its forelimbs crushed by rolling wood. The troop couldn't save the injured horse, they barely had enough men to tend to the knights. The teen remembered how he ended the bay horse himself. The poor thing widened its eyes, unable to understand why its master did it to him.
Oscar's new ride was one of the most docile of the stallions, it was startled by this muddy man who suddenly appeared beside his legs. It wasn't sure what that was, so it's a little jumpy and was only calmed by its young master's caresses.
The captive realized his luck ending, bt he wasn't willing to give up, his face was colored with the utmost sincerity, he cursed, he swore, he begged, he talked about his wife and children. He rarely mentioned those, because those were the most private secrets a mercenary could have.
Oscar tugged at the reins again, the tall Raytheon lifted its head. The stallion could feel its young master pulling its head backward, and it knew what that meant.
The black warhorse stood up on its hind legs and the teen leaned forward against the warhorse's neck. The stallion slammed its legs heavily on the ground, having had enough of the mudman on the ground. As a blood-curdling shriek was let out, it huffed satisfactorily.
The knights pushed the mud on the edge into the pit with their shields, no one knew when the yelling stopped. The Narcissus Knights felt like they were back in their memory long past as they refilled the soil into the pit. They were all good farmhands, these work don't take much effort for them.
The mud had fully covered the pit as the rain turned it into a pond. The knights cleaned up and left silently, just as how they arrived.
The teen turned his horse's head the last, but he saw a hand shoot out from the mud. The Prince's horse saw it too, and huffed discontentedly. It saw a huge mark on the hand, a mark of horseshoe. The deformed hand was washed pale by the rain. The stallion paced around the pit, it couldn't believe its stomp didn't cause the target a critical damage.
Oscar laughed, what a tenacious fella! The teen watched as the hopeless hand scratched at the air aimlessly, but soon, it slowed and calmed down, as if it finally gave up.
The teen pulled his horse aside as he knew his first battle had passed with the motionless hand.
The Prince was greeted with a warm welcome as he entered the camp. The battle was over, and it was won by His Royal Highness the Prince, they successfully kept the whole mercenary group here.
Oscar and his stallion were ushered to the empty space in front of the camp as the knights hammered their weapons against their shields. The teen couldn't recognize the faces. In the rain, his knights look just like spirits that came back from the abyss to congratulate him.
"Has His Royal Highness woken up?" Kamille asked Snowstorm.
"Please let Kamille in." A gruff voice came from the tent.
Snowstorm stood aside and lifted the entrance of the tent for the Paladin. Kamille instinctively performed a standing salute when he saw the teen Prince. He wasn't sure why, but he noticed something extra in the teen's eyes.
Oscar propped himself up, he saw darkness through the lifted tent entrance.
"What time is it now?" The teen had not been clear-headed for the past few days.
"About nine, Your Royal Highness, it's not that late." Kamille stood beside the bed.
"Please extend an invitation to the relevant people, you know who I'm talking about." The Prince was still slightly light-headed, his fever had subsided, but Operation Clean-up had used up a lot of his energy, so he still look pretty beaten up.
In a little while, all the people he summoned, including the Princess, Lady Duchess, the butler, the Paladin, and the King of Sins had arrived. Lady Duchess and the Princess sat beside Oscar, and the men chose to stand at the other side of the tent.
"Look at this!" The Prince handed a thick stack of paper to the Princess.
Princess Alanis nodded with understanding after flipping a few pages. "They created fake identities for me, the Ladies, and the Prince. It could be deception from the leader himself, no one would dare to carry the burden of murdering the royal family." The Princess waved the stack of paper about, the papers had portraits on them, with tiny words written on the bottom.
"Very good, Your Royal Highness, no one would dare to murder a royal family, I believe that." Oscar took the papers, "However, this explanation has its loophole. Now, someone was really trying to assassinate the royal family, I don't know this guy's purpose, if you and I were assassinated tonight, who would benefit from our deaths?"
Alanis shook her head, she was just a Princess, and the Prince was a teenager with no actual power, she really couldn't figure out why they would be attacked.
"I'm sorry, like you, I have no idea. I don't have many enemies, I could even count them with my hands, but none of them have the ability to transport a whole mercenary group into Titan secretly."
"I agree with your opinion, Your Royal Highness," The butler Ricky interjected. "Mr. Doramy and I had excluded your enemies in or analysis, please trust us, those Houses don't have the ability to do so, and their disapproval of His Royal Highness was only a superficial expression. In reality, they don't even have the courage to turn against His Royal Highness."
"Can you tell me? Which Houses?" Lady Duchess asked the butler cautiously, wanting to know which Houses that may have a bone to pick with House Andrew.
"Uh… About that…" Ricky stuttered, those are the people in the 'underworld', Lady Duchess really shouldn't find out about them. "Right, um… For example, House Karl Arnold, the old man had said he wanted to offer a reward for Oscar's head."
Lady Duchess looked at the Princess. As the most outstanding daughter of House Karl Arnold, the Queen's family, Princess Alanis had been close to them.
The Princess understood Lady Duchess' gaze, she knew she needed to explain herself, House Andrew wouldn't welcome an enemy. Even though she was a victim in this incident, she had to speak on behalf of House Karl Arnold, no one would want to place themselves across House Andrew.
Princess Alanis smirked a little, "House Karl Arnold? Don't you worry about them, Lady Duchess! My mother did come from this family, yes, but I would say this, House Karl Arnold had already lost their sense of honor and initiative, I believe Oscar already knew that. If it wasn't for my father's instigation, my reckless cousin wouldn't have lost his life." The Princess paused, trying to find the best words. She knew House Karl Arnold was hopeless, but they were still her family after all.
"Lady Duchess, you can think of my father's action as the final warning from the Royal Household to House Karl Arnold, which means this incident was perpetrated by another party! I believe House Arnold wouldn't show too much hostility toward House Andrew and Oscar. Of course, I will not overlook the possibility that they were planning to decimate their own selves."
Oscar waved his hand suddenly. He knew House Karl Arnold wouldn't really take any actions on this critical period after the duel, they'd been warned by His Majesty after all. The one he was worried about was the military minister. He had already met with the other strategists, except for Marshal Alan, he hasn't shown his full power yet, maybe that was his most complex side.
"I wonder what happened to Reynold Hewitt Preston, maybe he had arrived at House Andrew." The Prince asked a seemingly irrelevant question.
"Reynold Hewitt Preston?" The Princess almost forgot about the major general who travelled together with them. "Are you suspecting House Hewitt? Or to be specific, Marshal Alan?"
"Why not? Why did Reynold leave the team mid-way? Where was the last time we saw him, do you remember that? Fort Hanodt, that's where. He said he wanted to join the Narcissus Knights as soon as possible, I'd thought he couldn't wait to get on the battlefield, but now, there seems to be a question. Shouldn't I interpret his changing of route as an evasion of the incoming attack? Besides, only House Hewitt could easily order the imperial army, that could easily explain why there are at least four strong assassins in the cavaliers Marshal Alan gave me." Oscar had that question for a while, he thought the it was out of character for the young major general to be so low profile. Sightseeing was not part of a soldier's duty, but as an imperial officer, escorting the most outstanding Princess of the empire should still be a great task to take on.
"No! That's impossible!" Lady Duchess shook her head, "Little Oscar, disregarding House Andrew's lack of bad relationship with House Hewitt, from the current situation, they have no reason to kill you. Yes, the major general left with a feeble excuse, and we didn't notice him leaving, but all these only proves their innocence. If Silver Fox Alan did plan for all this, don't you think his method was too clumsy for someone famous for his military prowess? He mixed assassins into his troops, and let his grandson leave the team so obviously, isn't this too stupid a move? It's basically announcing to the world he's the perpetrator. If that's really the case, it must be his most idiotic assassination throughout his career!"
Oscar knew his judgment was too arbitrary, but he couldn't not think that way, from Marshal Alan's attentiveness toward him in Dulin, he had long suspected Marshal Alan from having an ulterior motive.
Right! Motive? Whatever intention Marshal Alan had, and regardless of when his grandson had left, the assassins would need a motive when they carry out the assassination. The Prince gave it a deep thought, but he couldn't identify what changes his passing would bring to the empire. Who would care about a prisoner on parole? Yes, the prisoner may have changed into clean and majestic clothes, but he hasn't done anything aside from pulling the Secretary of State down.
A shrieking alarm disrupted everyone's thought process. Kamille Rayen's eyes shined brightly and rushed out before notifying anyone. He knew, the troop had been tormented enough, no matter how valorous the knights were, it's impossible for them to endure another round of assault.
The situation was unclear, but the alarm was real. The campfires were extinguished without delay, showing once again the quality of the Narcissus Knights through their endless battles.
The knights soon gathered with their armors and moved hastily toward the predestined location; the injured brandished their weapons, even though they had lost their abilities to move, their comrades had already took their final letters to their families. Even lying down, the Narcissus Knights could still let the idiots who broke into their tents pay a heavy price; the nobles hid into the hill area with the help of a small team of knights, stopping at a hilltop where they could see the battlefield, so they would be able to escape speedily if the battle didn't go well.
The woods calmed down after a short while. Two torches disappeared in the darkness. Kamille sighed, he needs to bid farewell to His Royal Highness, his knights already went into the best sniping location.
"Your Royal Highness…"
Oscar stopped the Paladin with a wave of his hand. His shaking hand pointed at the peak of a faraway hill. "Look!"
The Paladin obeyed in stunned silence. He didn't want to believe it, but the fearless Colonel Kamille Rayen drew a sharp breath.
A light spot appeared on the peak, diffracted by the rain, forming a corona on the dark mountain ridge. Soon, the light spot turned into a scythe of fire.
Countless torches brightened the dark sky, roasting it into a brilliant red. Above the torches, mist was formed from the evaporated rain, brought by the mountain breeze together with the soulful howl from afar.
The torches congregated into a river, its crimson light chain pouring down from the peak. The Paladin took off his helmet hopelessly. If the scout hadn't sounded the alarm, he might have faced all this with relative calmness, but now it seemed like even resistance seem futile.
"Your Royal Highness, allow me to bid you farewell, even though my mission was to escort you through the whole journey, but… I don't think I could finish the mission after all, you know, I can't leave my men."
Oscar stared at Camille with confusion, he didn't believe the brave knight would say such dejected words.
Kamille knew the Prince still didn't understand meaning behind the amount of the torches and their moving speed. He pointed at the only source of light in the rainy night, "Your Royal Highness, those are a whole mountain division, a whole elite division of mountain soldiers."